So it was no surprise that Wednesday night’s tilt between Mansfield and King Philip felt like a playoff game.
The teams skated to a 1-1 tie, exchanging goals in the final four minutes of the second period. With the point, King Philip is still alive for a playoff berth. The Warriors need to win their final two games of the season to join the Hornets in the tournament.
“We can’t lose,” said King Philip head coach Paul Carlow of the remaining games. “We were up 1-0 but our Achille’s Heel, penalties. If we can play even strength, I like our chances. But we had to kill a couple more extra penalties than I would have liked to. But the kids responded, they played a strong third, they killed that penalty off to start. We had our chances.”
After a relatively even first period, Mansfield began to gain control of the game, having long stretches of possession in the attacking zone. The Hornets had a 16-5 edge in shots on goal in the frame, peppering King Philip senior goalie Shane Frommer (29 saves).
“Shane played maybe his best game of the year tonight,” Carlow said. “[Mansfield] is a good team, they are very well coached. They are already going to the Division 1 tournament so it was a tall task for our guys to stay alive. They put it on us pretty good earlier in the year.”
When Mansfield went on the power play at the midway point of the game, senior defenseman Tyler Oakley had his wrist shot redirected by sophomore Jake Lund but Frommer was able to get his glove on top of the dribbling puck.
Two minutes later, the Hornets had another chance when Tim Arnold kept the puck in the offensive zone and the puck landed at the feet of Chris Copponi, but Frommer made a point-blank save.
But despite the Hornets having the edge in play in the period, it was the Warriors that struck first. Mansfield goalie Sean McCafferty (23 saves) turned away a bid from Gavin Maxwell, but the puck found its way back in front and sophomore Joe Boselli lifted his shot into the back of the net. Luke D’Amico was credited with the assist while Maxwell provided the screen in front.
“Their goal was at the end of a long shift, our guys were out there for over two minutes so it cost us,” Balzarini said. “They tried their damnedest to get back but they just couldn’t. I don’t think Sean got a good look at it. But I thought we responded well. I thought the second period was much better for us.”
Less than 90 seconds after the Warriors took the lead, they took a penalty to put the Hornets on the man advantage again. This time, Mansfield cashed in.
Matt Copponi tossed a puck towards net from the blue line, where Oakley ripped a shot in close. The puck squirted free onto the other side and Chris Copponi batted in the rebound to tie the game with 1:09 left in the period.
“It was [like a playoff game],” Balzarini said. “I thought we started off slow, which is one thing we struggle with….They did a good job of putting sticks in the passing lanes and the shooting lanes. They had a handful of blocked shots, we just had trouble getting pucks to the net.”
KP had an 11-3 advantage in shots in the first period, but the teams split attacking zone possession. The best chance for King Philip came with just under three minutes to go when Maxwell saw his shot go wide and D’Amico had his rebound bid denied by McCafferty’s paddle on a diving save.
“Their goalie played well,” Carlow said. “We definitely had our chances, we had an odd-man rush late, we had a breakaway early on a shorthanded bid…both goalies played well. It was a good game, it was pretty evenly matched all night.”
Both teams had chances at the winner in the third period but couldn’t find the back of the net. D’Amico took a feed from Jack Coulter but McCafferty made the save right in front. D’Amico set up Boselli with just under six minutes to go, but again McCafferty was there for the save.
Right after the save, Mansfield went down the other end only for Matt Copponi’s shot to ring off the crossbar.
King Philip boys hockey (4-4 Hockomock, 8-10-1 overall) will try to keep its postseason hopes alive when it hosts Norwood on Monday at 5:20. Mansfield (5-2-2, 8-5-5) is on the road on Saturday, traveling to Larsen Arena to take on Winthrop.